Story by: David Steen Martin on August 15, 2023
Cassie Schembari was a 19-year-old Bellarmine University student when she was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.
“Cassie took it in stride,” said her mother, Jackie Schembari. “She was a fighter for two years. She went through a lot of treatments. It was a battle she fought like a hero. Her inner spirit was just hard to even put to words.”
After Cassie passed away, Jackie and her husband, Anthony, wanted to honor Cassie by giving to cancer charities. They donated to large, national foundations but decided they wanted to make an impact closer to home.
Sept. 9, 2023, at Norton Cancer Institute – Brownsboro
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Attending a presentation with their friend April West, a Norton Healthcare manager, the Schembaris learned about the Norton Healthcare Foundation’s first Bike to Beat Cancer 15 years ago. They have been involved ever since.
According to Jackie, the day of the ride is always an emotional experience for the family and members of Team Bryant at the family business, Bryant Heating & Cooling, the “Powered by” sponsor for the Bike to Beat Cancer.
“Just watching the day unfold is amazing. Watching the people come together: It’s a rush of emotions being with teams and people that care so much,” Jackie said. “It means a lot not only to us but a lot of other people watching the people from Norton [Healthcare] put their heart and soul into it.”
Jackie said she is touched by the participation of Norton Healthcare volunteers and riders — doctors, nurses, administrators and others.
“They are there because they want to be, not because they have to be. There’s a genuine connection all the way through the organization,” Jackie said.
“We have also had incredible support from Team Bryant members throughout the 15 years that keeps pushing us to the next year,” Jackie said. “It keeps the family and the team strong.”
Jackie rode the first few years. This year, she’ll watch the riders at the start, help at the Team Bryant-supported pit stop and then head back to Norton Cancer Institute – Brownsboro to cheer on the team’s riders and all the finishers.
Anthony has ridden every year and will be riding again this year. Sons Anthony Jr. and Dante will join their father on the ride, as they have since 2010.
All of the funds raised in Bike to Beat Cancer go directly to support Norton Cancer Institute’s mission to cure cancer and eliminate suffering. Jackie said she especially likes knowing that contributions help other families who face not only the emotional but financial burden of cancer.
“I know from our personal experience the cost to travel to a facility for treatment. That’s what’s so important,” Jackie said.
She noted that the Norton Cancer Institute – Brownsboro facility includes such amenities as the Healing Garden, where patients and family members can enjoy a moment of peace.
“Just seeing how the facility is laid out and knowing we may have had a small piece of making that happen — it’s a truly special place. If you’ve been to cancer facilities, not many take into consideration patients’ emotional needs.”
According to Jackie, Bike to Beat Cancer is just what her family needed as they lived with the grief of losing Cassie. Norton Healthcare staff and volunteers give her family and other families who are facing — or who have faced — cancer a feeling of generosity, kindness and support. They understand families like hers still need support, even years later.
“It’s the kitchen table, hometown feeling. They are there to support us,” she said. “This is something that has moved our whole family. They truly have done a special job since the very first event.”
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